The Trumpettes Are Suspiciously Unconcerned About Russian Hacking

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Philip Bump comments on what might be the most suspicious thing Sessions said yesterday:

In his testimony, Sessions told Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that he “did not recall” any meeting during which Trump expressed concern or curiosity about what Russia had been doing during the 2016 election. Sessions also testified that he himself, as the country’s and Trump’s lead law enforcement official, was never briefed on Russian interference.

Even if nothing else Sessions said on Tuesday had comported with what former FBI director James B. Comey said before the same committee last week, this did. Manchin asked Comey whether Trump had ever expressed curiosity about Russia’s attempts to swing the election; Comey said that he “[didn’t] remember any conversations with the president about the Russia election interference.”

Both before and after his election and inauguration, Trump’s attitude toward the Russia investigation has almost exclusively been that it’s a hassle, not an important step toward assuring the sanctity of American elections. (A sanctity, mind you, that has been his purported focus in establishing a commission to look at alleged voter fraud.) Instead, he has consistently disputed whether Russia was even behind the hacking — a line that Sessions mirrored in his testimony on Tuesday by stating that Russia’s role was the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies without embracing it as his own.

Here’s Trump’s most recent comment:

Of course, Trump is downplaying anything that might question the legitimacy of his election. This suggests that somewhere in his addled brain he knows Russians were trying to help him win the election.

And, of course, this tells us he is less concerned about the security of the United States than he is in protecting his own sorry ass.

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Jeff Sessions: Watergate or Waterloo?

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So I’m back, the malware cleanup is done, and the site is safe to visit. I’ll be back tomorrow with some actual posts.

I didn’t get to watch it, but I take it Jeff Sessions’s testimony today was a lot of chest thumping and bluster without substance.

Josh Marshall:

The big and overriding takeaway from this hearing is that Sessions declined to answer almost all the pertinent questions – in most cases because they involved his discussions with President Trump and in at least one case (or this was what I understood him to be saying) discussions with other leaders at the Department of Justice. There’s an important back and forth about what basis he had for this refusal. That is important in itself. But the gist, as Sessions eventually seemed to concede, was that he was refusing to answer because he did not want to preclude or render moot the President’s ability to assert executive privilege.

But as the President hasn’t asserted executive privilege yet, I’m not sure how that’s supposed to fly.

What did jump out at me across the whole testimony is that Sessions claims he recused himself from the Russia probe simply and only because it involved a presidential campaign of which he could reasonably be viewed as a top advisor. This is almost certainly not true. Sessions recused himself the day after The Washington Post reported two meetings with Ambassador Kislyak which Sessions had failed to disclose at his confirmation hearing. Sessions now claims that that he had made what amounts to an in pectore recusal the day after he was sworn in (little shout out to you canon lawyers out there). So in Sessions’ mind, what we thought was a recusal was just the formal version of what he had done in his head weeks earlier. Again, this seems almost certainly false. Inevitably this elaborate ruse undermines his credibility about all the rest. Comey seemed to have in mind something more than simply a technical reason requiring Sessions to recuse himself.

Big picture: Sessions refused to answer the biggest questions; he was almost certainly not telling the truth about what triggered his refusal. Most of the rest was atmospherics.

Jennifer Rubin:

The contrast with Comey was striking. Sessions, grayer and older, looked nervous and shrunken in his seat, growing defensive at times. He weakly complained to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) about her questioning. He sharply objected: “I’m not able to be rushed this fast, it makes me nervous.” Indeed, while Comey was relaxed, confident and expansive, Sessions was evasive and skittish. He repeatedly refused to answer questions, not invoking executive privilege but saying it was Justice Department “policy” not to talk about conversations with the president. Democrats repeatedly challenged him, accusing him of “stonewalling.” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) slammed him: “You are impeding this investigation.” Heinrich told Sessions there’s no “appropriateness” standard that alleviates him from the need to testify under oath fully and completely. Heinrich flat out accused Sessions of “obstructing” the investigation.

Sarah Posner:

Sessions’s recusal — his justification for it, and the scope of how he defines it — is central to the integrity of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in our election, and possible Trump campaign collusion with it. That’s because Sessions was at the center of advising the Trump campaign on national security issues during the campaign and has failed to be forthcoming about how that role might have blended with his communications with Russian officials throughout. This raises questions as to how impartially he can exercise his role as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and whether he may still be in a position to influence the Russia probe.

Sessions’s testimony, though, failed to put to rest any doubts Senate investigators, or the public, have about many of the matters relating to his recusal, and whether he is adhering to it. In fact, Sessions only raised new and potentially damaging questions about his actions and cast doubt on his own truthfulness about what the recusal entails.

Charles Pierce:

The people who best treed JeffBo on his most preposterous bullshit—Heinrich, Kamala Harris of California, and The Mustache of Righteousness, Angus King of Maine—could only push him so far. Everybody on that committee knew that what JeffBo was selling was batter-fried nonsense. (Call me an elitist snob if you like, but whenever I hear a Southerner talking about “mah honah,” I reach for William Tecumseh Sherman’s phone number.)

Everybody on that committee knew that, when JeffBo declined to answer questions about whether James Comey was fired because of the Russia probe, he was hiding the plain truth behind a privilege that he’d made up on the spot. Everybody on that committee knew that JeffBo’s memory lapses were at best highly convenient. (He couldn’t remember meeting the Russian ambassador, but he could quote an op-ed by William Barr from almost a year ago? That dog don’t even want to hunt.) Everybody on that committee knew that you can’t refuse to answer a question because the president* might want to invoke executive privilege at some vague point in the future. But if the majority is content to look like an entire bag of tools and pretend otherwise, there’s not much the Senate can do about being obstructed in such a shameless fashion.

Actually, there is one historical precedent for what Sessions asserted that went unmentioned, and that precedent is not promising. Although even it wasn’t as barefaced as it was on Tuesday, the assertion of an illegitimate, unasserted “executive privilege” was, for a long time, central to the defense of John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s corrupt AG who went to jail behind his crimes relating to Watergate and what Mitchell himself called, “the White House horrors.” It is an argument you make when you know that there is an unacceptable political price to be paid if the president* actually does assert executive privilege in advance—which is what the Obama administration did on several occasions, despite Tom Cotton’s having been deliberately and dishonestly obtuse on the comparison during Tuesday’s hearings.

There’s only a certain amount of sham that our institutions can tolerate. We’re getting very close to it.


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Malware Alert

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The site seems to be having malware issues. Note that I am paying some people to take care of it. Please see my Facebook page for updates:

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The Trump-Russia Collusion Scandal Is Not About Hillary Clinton

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I’ve been arguing for months that the Russian hacking story needs to be taken seriously apart from whatever one felt about the election. I’ve also been saying all along that there’s no clear indication that anything the Russians did made any difference, and Clinton probably would have lost anyway.

I’m bringing this up now because I keep running into people who sincerely believe this whole Trump-Russia thing is just something like a false flag operation being run by Clinton supporters in media and government. One of these geniuses just told me James Comey obviously is part of this conspiracy. Um, James Comey? The guy who probably did cost Clinton the election? The whackjobbery is strong with this one.

Clinton supporters do like to bring up the Russian hacks as one of their many excuses for why Clinton’s loss was not her fault, but frankly, that’s bogus, also. As I’ve said, there’s no clear indication that anything the Russians did cost Clinton the election. There were so many factors that cost Clinton the election that it’s just about impossible to point to any one that made any measurable difference — with the possible exception of James Comey’s October 28 letter to Congress about Clinton’s damn emails. That does seem to have hit Clinton’s poll numbers hard.

And at this point, to believe the “false flag” theory one would have to believe that Glenn Greenwald and the crew at The Intercept are Clinton trolls. I don’t think so.

There are five major investigations going on right now into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia — two investigations in the Senate, two in the House, and one being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Russian interference in the election is only one items on their agenda. They’re also looking into the circumstances that led to Michael Flynn’s dismissal as national security adviser, any inappropriate connections between Trump campaign and staff and foreign governments, leaks to media, and attempts to impede investigations of all that.

We don’t know what all Bob Mueller is doing, but he’s still staffing up. This just in

On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, special counsel Robert Mueller has been quietly and methodically building the equivalent of a small US attorney’s office — a team of formidable legal minds who’ve worked on everything from Watergate to Enron, unlikely to leave any stone unturned.

The hires include top criminal prosecutors.  These include Michael Dreeben, considered one of the top criminal prosecutors in the U.S. Mueller is serious, and he has no particular ties to the Clintons that I can find. It may be months yet before we know where he’s going with his work.

Aside from the election, it seems just about every part of Trump’s real estate business, plus any associates one ever hears about, has ties to Russia. This is particularly critical, since Trump still is making money from that business, and genetically compromised offspring Eric admitted that he shows his father profit reports.  (Today the Washington Post published a story saying that Trump lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz has ties to Russia, for pity’s sake. )

Eric Trump said in an interview aired early Tuesday that sharing profit reports with his father “doesn’t blur the lines” in separating the family business from President Trump’s administration.

“You’re allowed to show that and remember the president of the United States has zero conflicts of interest,” Eric Trump told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Zero.”

Some of those profits may be from money laundering for the Russians. Trump is extremely vulnerable to abuse-of-office and corruption charges, whether he realizes it or not. And then there are the many associates, such as his out-of-his-depth son-in-law Jared Kushner, who might as well have an “R” for rotten stamped into his forehead.

So, yeah, this is a big deal, and it’s a big deal that has nearly nothing to do with Hillary Clinton.

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Impeachment Now? Maybe Not.

Trump Maladministration

There’s lots of hollering for impeachment NOW, in both news and social media. I want Trump to go away as much as anybody, but if it’s done at all we’ll get one shot at it. Not all the ducks are in a row yet. The Slate Impeach-o-Meter has the odds for an impeachment at 41 percent, which seems about right to me —

And yet, as I alluded to yesterday, until this stuff all tangibly happens—until the things the Mueller investigation might conclude become the things it did conclude—Republicans, who hold the majority in Congress, don’t really have any reason to bail on their president. So we’ll raise our meter, but only by a symbolic 1 percent.

What’s going on with Trump resembles the Nixon almost-impeachment more than it does what went on with Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton. Although technically Nixon wasn’t impeached, when he resigned in 1974 he did so after articles of impeachment had been passed in the House Judiciary Committee, and party elders in Congress assured him that they not only would pass in the House, there were enough votes in the Senate to remove him from office.  So this is the one time the impeachment/removal process succeeded, even if it was cut short at the end. So let’s look at Watergate.

Forgive me for not explaining who everybody in this narrative is. I’ve got a limited amount of time to blog today.

The Watergate burglary happened on June 17, 1972. Later that same month, the first of Woodward and Bernstein’s investigations tying the burglars to the White House were published in the Washington Post.

In June 1972 (we learned later), Nixon and Haldeman agreed to try to shut down the FBI investigation of Watergate. Through surrogates, FBI Director L. Patrick Gray was ordered to stay out of it.

The Watergate burglars were indicted by a federal grand jury for burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping in September, 1972.

Nixon was re-elected in a landslide in November, 1972.

In January 1973 the Watergate trial began. Several burglars entered guilty pleas. McCord and Liddy were convicted. Shortly after that McCord told a judge that he’d perjured himself under pressure. About this time John Dean began to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

In April, L. Patrick Gray resigned as FBI Director after it was discovered he had destroyed evidence that had been in E. Howard Hunt’s safe. William Ruckelshaus is appointed to replace Gray. Shortly after that Nixon aides Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and Kleindienst resigned. John Dean is fired. Nixon looks guilty as hell.

The Senate Watergate Committee began televised hearings in May 1973. Shortly after that Archibald Cox is appointed special prosecutor.

In July 1973, Nixon refused to release White House tapes to anybody.

In October 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned for being a corrupt s.o.b. I don’t think anyone ever connected him to Watergate.

October 20, 1973, was the “Saturday night massacre” that resulted in Archibald Cox being fired. Nixon was pretty much toast after that, but impeachment was still several months away.

Let’s now move on to 1974. People close to Nixon continue to be indicted or to confess to illegal activities of various sorts.

On March 1, 1974, Nixon himself is named an “unindicted co-conspirator” in indictments of seven former presidential aides.

Finally we get to May 9, 1974 — impeachment hearings begin in the House Judiciary Committee. They were televised beginning on July 24. The Committee approved articles of impeachment by the end of July.

And then on August 8, Nixon delivered his resignation speech. He had been assured that not only would the articles be approved in the House, there were enough votes in the Senate to remove him from office. So, while Nixon technically was not impeached, in effect he actually was.

As I see it, relatively speaking, Trump’s case is somewhere around late spring or early summer of 1973. There is a lot of investigating still to do, and people close to Trump (first and foremost, Kushner and Sessions, IMO) have yet to be grilled and (presumably) indicted. As we’re seeing today after the Comey testimony, plenty of Republicans are still trying to protect Trump. And they have a majority in both Houses. And today’s Republicans are even worse partisan whackjobs than Republicans were in the 1970s. If attempted now, impeachment would fail.

I’m saying impeachment right this minute is premature. Let the process play out a little bit more first. I don’t mind Democrats standing up and saying they’d support it, but I also don’t mind Democrats saying it’s too soon, because it is.

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Britain Might Un-Brexit

Trump Maladministration

British elections today, and Theresa May is in trouble.  She may hang on to being PM, but only by the skin of her teeth. And the results today could mean that Brexit could be canceled.

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The Comey Testimony

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Naturally I’m having computer issues today, which means posting will be limited. From what I’ve heard of the Senate hearings so far, it strikes me that Republicans seem to be trying to blame Comey for not stopping Trump from trying to obstruct justice. Good luck with that, guys.

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The Art of the Fake

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A few days ago, we were told that Donald Trump had signed a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Details were not made available to the press immediately, but we were assured that this was a Big Deal.

“That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States,” The so-called president said. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

I’ve been keeping an eye out for analysis of what jobs might be created, or whether Congress actually would approve it. but it turns out there’s nothing to approve.

That’s right; the Brookings Institution is reporting that there is no arms deal.

I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.

The author, Bruce Riedel, says that it’s doubtful the Saudis could pay for a $110 billion arms deal, anyway, given the price of oil these days.

So what was that dog and pony show in Riyadh about, anyway? I’ll bet you can guess, but here’s a hint:

The Trump International Hotel received about $270,000 from a lobbying campaign tied to the government of Saudi Arabia last year, according to a filing submitted to the Justice Department last week.

The filing from the MSLGroup, a public relations firm, shows that the group spent about $270,000 at the Trump International Hotel while conducting lobbying efforts on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government. MSLGroup was helping Saudi Arabia with several lobbying efforts, including opposing the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which allows the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

Yes. The so-called president insults the mayor of London for allegedly being soft on terrorism; meanwhile, he’s been in bed with a group trying to prevent the Saudis from owning up to their role in 9/11. An attack on Trump’s city. What a guy.

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They Doth Not Protest Enough, Methinks

News Media

Last night after I was done writing I learned that someone had leaked documents to The Intercept showing that the NSA knew about a Russian attempt to hack election officials and an election software company before the November 2016 election.

I found a discussion of this on social media, and apparently knowledgeable people in it said that what The Intercept published didn’t indicate that the Russians had succeeded in changing election results. What I’ve said all along: Whatever the Russians might have done, even if they hadn’t done it Hillary Clinton probably would have lost, anyway.

But this morning I fully expected to find media erupting in news about What Did the NSA Know, and When Did They Know It? Instead, it’s mostly subdued news stories about the NSA leaker.

If I were a suspicious sort of person, I would find this odd.

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Trump’s Worst Poll Yet!

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Yesterday’s Gallup daily tracking poll has Trump at 36 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove. That’s his lowest Gallup approval number yet. See also Donald Trump’s base is shrinking at FiveThirtyEight.

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